Ac­ces­si­bil­ity

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DANIEL MACEACHERN

“If you make it open and ac­ces­si­ble to every­one, no one has a dis­abil­ity.” That’s the ba­sic phi­los­o­phy of In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing. For the most part, ac­ces­si­bil­ity in Carbonear is not too bad, but there is al­ways some room for im­prove­ment.

A planned com­mu­nity guide aims to pro­vide ac­cess for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to build­ings and shops in the Carbonear area.

Adam Baker of Carbonear, who works with the In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Re­source Cen­tre in St. John’s, is one of sev­eral in­terns who have been sent out to com­mu­ni­ties across the prov­ince to pro­duce sim­i­lar guides.

“It’s a list­ing of busi­nesses and ser­vices within the com­mu­ni­ties, but with detailed in­for­ma­tion about their ac­ces­si­bil­ity, about whether the build­ing it­self is ac­ces­si­ble, right down to if the busi­nesses and ser­vices of­fer al­ter­nate for­mats for printed ma­te­ri­als, like Braille and au­dio record­ings,” said Baker.

The guide will also in­clude a sum­mary of the ser­vices of­fered and con­tact in­for­ma­tion for the busi­nesses.

Six items on ac­ces­si­bil­ity check­list

Baker said there are six items on the ac­ces­si­bil­ity check­list: blue park­ing spots with signs; ramps, if needed, in­doors and out­doors; el­e­va­tors (if the build­ing is more than one storey); au­to­matic doors; ac­ces­si­ble wash­rooms with hand rails; and al­ter­na­tives to printed ma­te­ri­als.

“ Th­ese are the kinds of things we look for,” said Baker, adding that lit­tle de­tails can mean a lot in im­prov­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity; blue park­ing spots for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are good, he said, but they should be ac­com­pa­nied by signs. “ We feel that a sign’s im­por­tant, be­cause in the mid­dle of win­ter, the pave­ment’s so dirty you’re not go­ing to see if the space is blue or not.”

Baker said the point of the guide is not to point fin­gers at busi­nesses that are or aren’t ac­ces­si­ble. “ We just want some­one who might use a wheel­chair, we want them to be able to take this guide and know, looking at the guide, whether they can get in to this busi­ness or ser­vice,” he said.

Baker said the In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Re­source Cen­tre’s fo­cus is in­de­pen­dence. He’s been work­ing on the project at Carbonear’s Hu­man Re­sources, Labour and Em­ploy­ment of­fice in Carbonear, which re­cently ac­quired what he calls “adap­tive tech­nol­ogy” to help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties use their ser­vices, in­clud­ing soft­ware that mag­ni­fies com­puter screens and au­dio soft­ware for peo­ple with vi­sion prob­lems, as well as hard­ware like a key­board with over­sized keys, a large track­ball mouse for peo­ple with lim­ited dex­ter­ity (it can also be placed on the floor and ma­nip­u­lated with a foot), and a mo­tor­ized com­puter desk with a switch that raises or low­ers the key­board tray.

In con­tact­ing the busi­nesses for in­forma- tion, Baker has found that the guide may have the in­di­rect re­sult of spurring lo­cal busi­nesses to im­prove ac­cess.

“Some of them are al­ready in the process of (im­prov­ing ac­cess), and some peo­ple are looking at it more closely, now that I’ve brought it to their at­ten­tion.”

Baker said he hopes the guide will be fin­ished by the time he’s done his in­tern­ship, in early Fe­bru­ary, 2010. Af­ter that, up­dates to the guide might be done if the pro­gram is re­newed; it’s up for fund­ing re­newal at the end of March.

“If I’m back on, I’ll keep it up to date. If not, there’ll ei­ther be an­other in­tern or it could be kept up to date on a vol­un­teer ba­sis,” he said. “If it was in need of up­dat­ing, it wouldn’t take me long to go through it again, hav­ing made it the first time. I’d vol­un­teer my time to keep it up to date.”

Baker said, for the most part, ac­ces­si­bil­ity in Carbonear is not too bad, but there is some room for im­prove­ment.

“For phys­i­cal ac­ces­si­bil­ity, most of the newer build­ings are do­ing pretty well for it,” he said. “Most build­ings nowa­days, if a ramp is needed, it’s put on while the build­ing’s be­ing con­structed. Some of the older busi­ness, they’re a lit­tle bit less ac­ces­si­ble. Even if the door is half a foot up off the ground, it’s not re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, be­cause some­body with a wheel­chair would have dif­fi­culty try­ing to get up over that.”

An ex­am­ple of a build­ing that’s do­ing well is the TC Square shop­ping cen­tre, with au­tomat- ic doors on ei­ther side of the en­trances, al­though ones in the mid­dle would be nice as well, he said.

“Ev­ery­thing else in­side is open. You don’t have to worry about au­to­matic doors in­side the mall, be­cause the en­trances to the stores are al­ways wide open while the mall’s open,” he said.

Baker said he hopes the guide is of use to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties both in terms of the in­for­ma­tion it pro­vides as well as en­cour­ag­ing busi­ness own­ers to make their op­er­a­tions more ac­ces­si­ble. “Ac­ces­si­bil­ity means that it’s open to every­one,” he said. “ That’s re­ally a big goal of in­de­pen­dent liv­ing in gen­eral.

The IL phi­los­o­phy is that peo­ple have the free­dom to make their own choices and de­ci­sions, and the abil­ity to do so.”

Baker couldn’t say how many peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties live in the Carbonear area, say­ing that it’s prob­lem­atic to lump peo­ple with dif­fer­ent con­di­tions into one group. More to the point, the goal of prod­ucts like the guide and ser­vices like the In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Re­source Cen­tre or the adap­tive tech­nol­ogy at the Hu­man Re­sources, Labour and Em­ploy­ment of­fice is to ren­der dis­abil­i­ties ir­rel­e­vant.

“If you make it open and ac­ces­si­ble to every­one, no one has a dis­abil­ity,” he said.

“Most build­ings nowa­days, if a ramp is needed, it’s put on while the build­ing’s be­ing con­structed. Some of the older busi­nesses, they’re a lit­tle bit less ac­ces­si­ble. Even if the door is half a foot up off the ground, it’s not re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, be­cause some­body with a wheel­chair would have dif­fi­culty try­ing to get up over that.” — In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Re­source Cen­tre in­tern Adam Baker

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